Key to Umbria

Livy’s account of Fabius’ campaign of 310/9 BC, before the appointment of the dictator

Large black asterisk = battle that ended the siege of Sutrium (9: 35)

Green route = possible route to the territory of the Camertes Umbros taken by Fabius’ scouts (9:36)

I have suggested that they descended to the later route of Via Amerina and turned east at Tuder, to follow

Via Todina (see P. Camerieri, referenced below, at p. 102, Figure 10), and that they crossed the Apennines at Plestia

*? = territory possibly raided after Fabius’ descent from mons Ciminius (9:36)

Red asterisks = Livy’s alternative sites for the definitive defeat of the Etruscans (9:37)

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

In this page, I provide background material on some aspects of Livy’s account of the campaign conducted in Etruria by the consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus in 310/9, in the period before the appointment as dictator of Lucius Papirius Cursor.

Ciminian Forest

Sutrium and the Ciminian Forest in 310/9 BC

Veii fell to Rome in 396 BC and its territory was confiscated

Blue italics (Tromenina, Stellatina, Sabatina,Arnensi) = approximate location of Roman tribes of 387 BC

Blue dots (Sutrium and Nepete) = Latin colonies (386-383 BC)

Underlined  = centres with treaties: Caere (100 years from 353 BC); Tarquinii (40 years from 351 BC)

Green dots = allied centres: Falerii (from 343 BC); Ocriculum (from 308 BC)

Later Roman roads ( Cassia; Amerina; Flaminia) probably indicate earlier lines of communication

Adapted from Hampus Olsson (referenced below, p. 49, Figure 1)

According to Livy (‘History of Rome’, 9: 33: 1-2), at the start of his second consulate, Fabius defeated an Etruscan army that was besieging the Latin colony at Sutrium, which:

  1. “... faced about and fled headlong towards its camp.  But the Roman cavalry ... presented themselves in front of the fugitives, who then  ... [fled] to the silva Ciminia (Ciminian Forest).   The Romans, having killed many thousand Etruscans ... , took possession of [their] camp ... [and] then began to consider the feasibility of a pursuit”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 35: 7-8).

Livy then digressed in order to describe the Ciminian Forest, which was to feature prominently in his subsequent account of this phase of the war:

  1. “In those days, the Ciminian Forest was more inuia atque horrenda (impenetrable and terrifying) than even the forests of Germany are today, and no-one [presumably he meant no Roman], not even a trader, had visited it up to that time: to enter it was a thing that hardly anyone but [Fabius] was bold enough to do: the recollection of  [the Roman catastrophe in 321 BC at] the Caudine Forks  was still too vivid with everyone else”,  (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 1). 

We can reasonably assume that the silva Ciminia was named for the mons Ciminus (marked on the map above).  We know little about its extent in Livy’s day, and still less about its extent in the 4th century BC (although Livy clearly assumed that it had extended southwards as far as Sutrium).  John Ward Perkins (referenced below, at pp. 140-2) made a number of interesting observations in relation to the surrounding topography:

  1. “... after leaving Sutrium, [the later Via Cassia] skirted the southwestern slopes of mons Ciminius (Cominian Mountain), through country that probably still lay within the borders of the great Ciminian Forest in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC” (see pp. 140-1).

This road probably followed an ancient route through the forest from Sutrium to Volsinii.  Furthermore, the twin colonies of Sutrium and Nepete had been founded on sites the southern border of the forest:

  1. “The colonies of Sutrium (Sutri) and Nepete (Nepi) are said to have been established as early as the [380s BC] ... on the sites of important earlier settlements:

  2. Sutrium commanded the Sutri gap, the only practicable road up into central Etruria, between the Monti Sabatini and Monte Cimino [i.e. the proto-Cassia], through country that was still densely forested; and

  3. Nepete, which occupied an impregnable position on a narrow tongue of land between two gorges barely five miles from Falerii Veteres, controlled the narrow belt of easy country [that was destined to carry the Via Amerina], between:

  4. on the west, the impenetrable thickets of the Ciminian Forest; and

  5. on the east, the almost equally impenetrable gorges of the streams that drain eastwards towards the Tiber.

  6. Both sites were key points in Rome's slow but remorseless northward advance” (see p. 142).

When Fabius subsequently decided to march northwards into upper Etruria, his obvious route would have involved either:

  1. the proto-Cassia, towards Volsinii; or

  2. the proto-Amerina, which crossed the Tiber into the territory of the Umbri and then followed the river towards a convenient crossing east of  Perusia. 

However, as we shall see, according to Livy, he took neither: instead he surprised the Etruscans my marching under cover of darkness through the Ciminian forest. 

Before Fabius set out into this dreadful forest in order to pursue the fleeing Etruscans, he needed reconnaissance.  Fortunately (according to Livy):

  1. “... one of those present, the consul's brother Marcus Fabius:

  2. some say that it was [his half-brother], Fabius Caeso; while

  3. others that it was Caius Claudius, a son of the same mother as the consul;

  4. offered to explore and to return in a short time with definite information about everything.  He had been educated at Caere  [and thus] ... knew the Etruscan language well.  It is said that his only companion was a slave [who was]... acquainted, like his master, with the language. ... They went dressed as shepherds and [although they were] armed with rustic weapons, ... [they received greater protection from] the fact that [the locals did not believe] that any stranger would enter the Ciminian defiles”,  (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 2-6).

However, before they returned, they had a further mission to accomplish.

Treaty with the Umbrian Camertes

It seems that these intrepid scouts exceeded their remit: according to Livy:

  1. “They are said to have penetrated as far as the ‘Camertes Umbros’ (the Umbrian people of Camertium or Camerinum), where [their leader] revealed his identity.  It is said that he was introduced into the [local] senate, with whom he spoke, in the consul's name, de societate amicitiaque (of an agreement of friendship and alliance). ... He was warmly received and told to report to the Romans: that 30 days' provisions  would be waiting for the them if they came into that region; and that the young men of the Umbrian Camertes would be armed and ready to obey their orders”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 7-8).

In the map at the top of the page, I have assumed that Fabius. scouts  first climbed to the top of the Ciminian Mountain (since, as we shall see, this was the route that Fabius himself was to take).  I have also assumed that:

  1. the territory of the Umbrian Camertes was around Camertium/ Camerinum (modern Camerino); and

  2. the most convenient route from the top of the Ciminian Mountain involved:

  3. descending to the point at which the proto-Amerina crossed the Tiber;

  4. continuing along the river to Tuder; and

  5. turning east there along to the ancient route designated by Paolo Camerieri (referenced below, at p. 102, Figure 10) as the Via Todina to the Apennine pass at Plestia (modern Colfiorito), which is at the southern end of the syncline valley that leads to modern Camerino.

Livy clearly had at least two sources for this expedition, since he mentioned two conflicting records of which of Fabius’ brothers had been involved.  He obviously had less than complete confidence in their accuracy in other respects, since he recorded that:

  1. it is said” that the younger Fabius’ only companion was a slave; and

  2. more importantly, that the two men “are said to have” penetrated as far as the ‘Camertes Umbros’.

Nevertheless, Frontinus, who was writing in the 1st century AD, used Livy or one of his sources for one of his examples of a Roman military strategy that had involved ‘Finding Out the Enemy’s Plans’:

  1. “During the war with Etruria, when shrewd methods of reconnaissance were still unknown to Roman leaders, Quintus Fabius Maximus commanded his brother, Fabius Caeso, who spoke the Etruscan language fluently, to put on Etruscan dress and to penetrate into the Ciminian Forest, where our soldiers had never before ventured.  He showed such discretion and energy in executing these commands that, after traversing the forest and observing that Umbros Camertes were not hostile to the Romans, he brought them into an alliance”, (‘Strategies’, 1: 2: 2).

Guy Bradley (referenced below, at p.  108) pointed out that:

  1. “Camerinum, on the other side of the Apennines, is a surprisingly remote destination for a spying mission through the Ciminian Forest. ... Some [scholars, but not Bradley himself] have therefore] ... explained this passage as originating in a reference to Clusium [modern Chiusi], a city much nearer to the Ciminian Forest, which, according to Livy [‘History of Rome’, 10: 25: 11], was once called ‘Camars’.”

However, there is no doubt that the Camertes of the eastern Apennines had secured a famously ‘equal’ treaty with Rome at an early date:

  1. According to Livy, in 205 BC:

  2. “The Camertes, even though they were joined with the Romans in a treaty on equal terms (foedus aequam), nevertheless sent an armed cohort of 600 men [to fight against the Carthaginians]” (28:45).

  3. Cicero also mentioned this treaty in his speech ‘pro Balbo’ (ca. 70 ), when he referred to the fact that Caius Marius had awarded Roman citizenship to:

  4. “... cohortis duas universas Camertium civitate (two whole cohorts from the city of Camertium), [despite knowing] that Camertium foedus sanctissimum atque aequissimum (the treaty that had been made with Camertium had been most solemnly ratified, and was in all respects a most equitable one)” (46, with the translation into English by Kathryn Lomas, referenced below, at p. 43). 

  5. An inscription (CIL XI 5631) from Camerino records that, in 210 AD, the Camertes thanked the Emperor Septiums Severus for confirming their foedus aequum with Rome (albeit that, at this late date, this would obviously have been a purely symbolic gesture).

Those scholars who doubt that the younger Fabius crossed the Apennines generally suggest that the Romans made this treaty with the Camertes  in 295 BC, at the time of the Battle of Sentinum.  However, Livy clearly meant the people of Camerinum in Umbria: it is surely significant that there is no surviving evidence that Etruscan Clusium or ‘ Camars’ was the beneficiary of a favourable treaty at any time.

Thus, Guy Bradley (as above) and Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at pp. 459-60), among others, have argued in favour of Livy’s information that Fabius’ scouts reached the territory around modern Camerinum in 310/9 BC.  The Camertes would certainly have been an attractive candidate for such a treaty, since they controlled a tract of strategically important territory, which Cicero (in his speech ‘pro Sulla’ in 63 BC) implied was of a similar extent and/or importance to that which the Romans subsequently took from Picenes and the Gallic Senones:

  1. “Where ... was Sulla? ... Was he in agro Camerti, Piceno, Gallico (the lands of the Camertes, the Picenes or the [Senonian] Gauls), which ... that frenzy [i.e. the Catilinarian conspiracy] had infected most particularly ?”, (paragraph 53).

The Camertes might well have agreed to the treaty at this point because they feared the intentions of their Gallic neighbours (as argued, for example, by William Harris, referenced below, at p. 56).  However, Fabius would have been equally anxious to deter the Gauls from joining the fray as he prepared to march a Roman army into upper Etruria for the first time in its history.  Thus, it is entirely possible that Fabius’ scouts set out for Camerinum via the Ciminian Forest with this objective in mind. 

In other words, although Livy’s tale of the exploits of the younger Fabius had probably grown in the telling,  we should probably accept Livy’s record of the agreement of an alliance between the Romans and the Umbrian Camertes at this time. 

Fabius’ March to the Top of the Mons Ciminius

By the time that Fabius received news from his scouts of:

  1. a route through the Ciminian Forest by which he might slip past the Etruscan army; and

  2. the understanding with the Camertes, which would have reduced the possibility that the Gallic Senones might mount an opportunistic raid;

the Etruscans seem to have regrouped and stationed sentries:

  1. “... at the entrance to the pass [which was presumably one of the dreaded Ciminian defiles]”,  (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 10).

Thus, although (according to Livy) Fabius had lifted the siege of Sutrium by this time, the Etruscans still apparently controlled the route northwards through the forest.  However, now that he had the vital reconnaissance report, he and his army slipped away northwards under cover of darkness.  By dawn on the following day:

  1. “... he was on the crest of the Ciminian Mountain ... ”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 11).

I suspect that he had waited for news from his brother before moving northwards, not because he needed to know how to cross the forest (which he and his army accomplished in a few hours during the night), but rather because he wanted to know that, as marched into upper Etruria, the understanding with the Camertes was in place.

With the Etruscan army now behind him, he looked down from the mountain:

  1. “ ... over the rich ploughed fields of Etruria, [which] he sent his soldiers to plunder.  After the Romans had [accumulated] enormous booty, they were confronted by certain improvised bands of Etruscan peasants, called together in hot haste by the chief men of that country, but these peasants were so disorganised that, in seeking to regain the spoils, they nearly became spoils themselves.   Having slain or driven off these men and wasted the country far and wide, the Romans returned to their camp, victorious and enriched with all manner of supplies”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 11-13).

Apparently, when Fabius reached this camp, he:

  1. “... found five legates, with two tribunes of the plebs, who had come to order [him], in the name of the Senate, not to cross the Ciminian Forest.  Rejoicing that they had come too late to be able to hinder the war, they returned to Rome with tidings of victory”,  (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 14).

I will return to the significance of this passage below.

According to Livy:

  1. “This expedition of Fabius, instead of putting an end to the war, only gave it a wider range.  For the district lying about the base of [the mountain] had felt the devastation, and this had aroused not only Etruria to resentment but also the neighbouring parts of Umbria”,  (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 1).

This is the first time that Livy recorded any Umbrians in conflict with Rome: on the map above, I suggest that:

  1. the Umbrian territory that Fabius might have raided from the Ciminian Mountain included that along the route towards Tuder, which the younger Fabius had probably already explored; and

  2. the Etruscan territory involved have that of Tarquinii, since the treaty that they had agreed with the Romans was no longer in force.

Fabius’ Victory Over the Etruscans

Livy gave two possible locations for the battle that followed this raid, which I have marked with red asterisks on the map at the top of the page:

  1. In Livy’s preferred version, Fabius fell back on Sutrium before:

  2. “... a [new Etruscan army arrived there] that was larger than any [that the Etruscans] had raised before.  Not only did they move their camp forward out of the woods but, in their eagerness for combat, they even came down into the plain ... in battle formation ... [and] advanced up to the rampart [of the Roman camp].  When they saw that even the Roman sentries had retired within the works, they began shouting to their generals that ... [they should immediately] attack the enemy's stockade.  ... [However, Fabius chose not to give battle, but rather decided to allow his men to eat and to rest, presumably because they had only recently arrived.]  Then, when the signal was given a little before dawn,... the Romans ... fell upon their enemies, who were lying all about the field.  [This surprise Roman attack put the enemy to flight, and their] camp, being situated in the plain, was captured the same day.  ... On that day, 60,000 [Etruscan combatants] were killed or captured”, (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 2-11).

  3. Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 480) noted that this figure of 60,000:

  4. “... is a much larger figure than that usually reported by Livy [after Roman victories].”

  5. Livy acknowledged that :

  6. “Some historians relate that this famous battle was fought on the other side of the Ciminian Forest, near Perusia, and that Rome was in a panic lest the army should be surrounded and cut off in that dangerous defile by the Etruscans and Umbrians rising up on every hand”, (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 11).

However, he concluded that, whether it was fought to the north or to the south of this forest:

  1. “... the Romans were the victors.  And so, ambassadors from Perusia and Cortona and Arretium, which, at that time, were effectively capita Etruriae populorum (the chief cities of the Etruscan people), came to Rome to sue for peace and a foedus (treaty).  They obtained truces for 30 years”, (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 12).

Livy did not deny that the ‘alternative’ sources for this famous battle were right when they claimed that there had been disquiet at Rome about Fabius’ crossing of the Ciminian Forest, but he related it to Fabius’ earlier surprise raid on upper Etruria from the summit of the Ciminian Mountain, after which (as noted above) he returned safely to his camp at Sutrium, only to find:

  1. “... five legates, with two tribunes of the plebs, who had come to order [him], in the name of the Senate, not to cross the Ciminian Forest.  Rejoicing that they had come too late to be able to hinder the war, they returned to Rome with tidings of victory”,  (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 14).

There are at least two problems with this ‘preferred’ passage, as it stands:

  1. It seems odd (at least to me) that an encounter with what Livy described as:

  2. “... improvised bands of Etruscan peasants”, (‘History of Rome’, 9: 36: 12);

  3. would now be characterised as a war (bellum): as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 475) remarked:

  4. “... one might have expected [Livy] to use the word expeditionem [(expedition or campaign)]”;

  5. and noted that this had been Livy’s earlier usage:

  6. Hac expeditione consulis motum latius erat quam profligatum bellum

  7. “This expedition of the consul, instead of putting an end to the war, only gave it a wider range,  (History of Rome’, 9: 37: 1)

  8. Furthermore, it seems odd that the legates regarded as a victory an expedition that had actually escalated the war and brought more men, both Etruscan and Umbrian, to Sutrium. 

It is surely more likely that the legation arrived in Fabius’ camp, not after his initial raid on upper Etruria, but after the definitive victory over the Etruscans that followed it.  In other words, if this record of the legation from Rome is correct, then Livy probably placed it too early in his account: it belonged more naturally after the ‘famous battle’, which was therefore fought (as Livy’s alternative sources suggested) on the far side of the Ciminian Forest.

Simone Sisani (referenced below, 2007, at p. 33) made the case for the ‘alternative’ hypothesis from a different perspective: he argued that Livy’s preferred version of events contained a number of internal contradictions:

  1. “The concentration of all these events in the restricted area between the Ciminian Mountain and the Tiber [see the map above] is suspect. ... [It would, for example, have rendered pointless] the sending of emissaries to the Camertes, [whose territory] was so far from the theatre of war.  [It also seems odd that]:

  2. a war that had been conducted in southern Etruria should be followed by the surrender of three northern centres, Perusia, Cortona and Arretium, particularly since Livy explicitly affirmed that the last of these had not taken part in the siege of Sutrium; and

  3. ... the devastation of the territory immediately below the Ciminian Mountain had caused the uprising of the nearby Umbrians, [since their territory was on the other side of the] Tiber” (my translation).

Furthermore, as Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at p. 454 pointed out, Diodorus Siculus had recorded that the truces with Arretium Cortona and Perusia followed a victory at Perusia rather than one at Sutrium.  This alternative version of events meets at least two of the objections raised by Simone Sisani in relation to Livy’s preferred version (above):

  1. Fabius might well have arranged for an understanding with the Camertes before he crossed the Tiber into upper Etruria, not least because it would have reduced the risk that the Gallic Senones would attempt to take advantage; and

  2. the shock of this first appearance of a hostile Roman army in upper Etruria, followed by a significant Roman victory, might well have prompted Perusia, Cortona and Arretium to sue for peace.


Stephen Oakley (referenced below, 2005, at pp. 454) observed:

  1. “The manner in which Livy reported his [‘alternative’ version of Fabius’ famous battle against the Etrucans] suggests that, in some of his sources, Fabius’ campaign was recounted ... more or less as we find it in Diodorus Siculus ....  That is, Fabius:

  2. marched to relieve Sutrium [and] defeated the Etruscans there;

  3. crossed the Ciminian Forest [as reported only by Livy, and defeated some Etruscan peasants (as reported by both authors]; and

  4. defeated another Etruscan army near Perusia [in Livy’s famous battle and agreed truces] with Arretium, Cortona and Perusia [although only Livy provided the valuable information that these were truces for 30 years].” 

He also observed (at pp. 459-60) that:

  1. “There is no reason to doubt ... that the Romans fought with some Umbrians in this year, but that Camerinum allied itself with Rome:

  2. It is hardly surprising that:

  3. a campaign by Fabius around Perusia ... should have stirred up hostility to Rome among some Umbrian [tribes; and

  4. these [tribes] sided with the Etruscans ...; and

  5. there is no reason why Rome should not have had contact with Camerinum in this year.  ... Camerinum had a well-known and favourably [equal treaty], which would be well-explained by an alliance with Rome in advance of the Roman conquest of Umbria.”

On this last point, Oakley (at p. 460, note 5) cited with approval the observation of William Harris (referenced below, at p. 56) that:

  1. “... a plausible explanation of [a Roman treaty with Camerinum] being made in 310/9 BC can be found: Camerinum was threatened by the Senonian Gauls.”

Read more:

H. Olsson, “L’Agro Blerano tra V e I aC: Dati di Ricognizioni Archeologiche e Confronto”, Forma Urbis: Itinerari Nascosti di Rom Antica, 12 (2017) 49-54

P. Camerieri, “Il Castrum e la Pertica di Fulginia in Destra Tinia”, in: 

  1. G. Galli (Ed.), “Foligno, Città Romana: Ricerche Storico, Urbanistico e Topografiche sull' Antica Città di Fulginia”, (2015) Foligno,  at pp. 75-108

S. Sisani, “Fenomenologia della Conquista: La Romanizzazione dell' Umbria tra il IV Secolo a.C. e la Guerra Sociale”, (2007) Rome

S. Oakley, “A Commentary on Livy, Books VI-X:Volume III: Book IX”, 2005 (Oxford)

G. Bradley, "Ancient Umbria", (2000) Oxford

K. Lomas, “Roman Italy, 338 BC - 200 AD: A Sourcebook”, (1996, reprinted 2003) London

W. Harris, “Rome in Etruria and Umbria”, (1971) Oxford

J. B. Ward Perkins. “Etruscan and Roman Roads in Southern Etruria”, Journal of Roman Studies, 47:1/2 (1957), 139-43

  1. Roman Conquest: Conquest of Veii - Renewal of Latin Peace (406 - 358 BC)

Renewed Latin Peace to 1st Samnite War (358 - 341 BC)

Between 1st and 2nd Samnite War (341 - 328 BC)    

Second Samnite War I: 328 - 312 BC     Second Samnite War II: 311  - 304 BC

Etruscan War  (311 - 308 BC)      Between 2nd and 3rd Samnite Wars (304 -298 BC)

Third Samnite War      End Game (290-241 BC)

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